Review: WaterField Designs Travel Express for iPad
When choosing a case, there are normally several key factors to take into consideration -- protectiveness, design, utility, and pricing. Sometimes, the company behind the product and their values may also be worthy of additional thought. Take for example San Francisco's WaterField Designs. Rather than outsourcing its labor, everything is made in the United States, and the company uses high quality materials and reasonably user-friendly designs. While expensive for what it offers, Travel Express for iPad ($69) certainly reflects the company's commitment to quality.
Travel Express is one of the nicer sleeve-style cases we’ve seen recently for Apple’s tablet computers. Rather than just being a netbook/notebook bag that happens to have enough room to hold an iPad, this bag was designed specifically for the tablet. Composed mostly of ballistic nylon, the case is twelve inches long, nine inches tall, and an inch and a half thick. The body is black with an accent stripe in black, copper, flame, green, pearl, or pine. A YKK zipper runs half of the perimeter, from the top left corner to the bottom right, allowing for easy access to the iPad.
Inside, there is a dedicated reinforced pocket that can accommodate either model of the iPad, uncovered or with most thin cases and shields, now including Apple’s Smart Cover for the iPad 2. Four other interior pockets and the main cavity provide plenty of room for accessories; we were able to fit a wireless keyboard, iPad charger, Dock Connector to USB cable, reserve battery pack, iPhone 4, camera, and camera battery charger inside with room to spare. This is unlike many sleeves, and a fact that serious travelers will appreciate.
The standard model of Travel Express is simply the sleeve, which some users might use inside of another bag. WaterField Designs does offer a few customizations to make it a standalone option: $5 adds on D-rings, and two different straps are available for $12 or $22, respectively. Having tested the D-rings and the more expensive nylon and padded faux leather Suspension Strap, we were quite happy with the quality, especially the strap’s carabiner style clips, which had a very satisfying heft. The $12 version of the strap isn’t as wide as what’s shown here.
Having said all of that, just how good is the sleeve itself? If price wasn’t an issue, we would have been impressed across the board with Travel Express. All of the materials are very high quality, the build quality feels rock solid, and the sheer amount of space for accessories is unmatched by most other sleeve designs. By sleeve standards, the raw utility of Travel Express—particularly as customized with the D-rings and Suspension Strap—is high. The only downside is the price, which is very high by sleeve standards even before you factor in the nickel and diming with the D-rings and straps; with options such as STM’s excellent $70 Vertical iPad bag out there at lower prices, it’s hard to justify a nearly $100 sleeve-like bag. This is where knowing about the company may or may not come into play for you; if supporting Made in America products is worth the premium, you might be willing to stretch the extra dollars for Travel Express. Based solely on the quality of the sleeve, we would recommend it as a good solution, but with many comparable options at significantly lower prices, it’s worthy of a limited overall recommendation.